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April 25, 2023

How Sensory Integration Therapy Can Help Children With Autism

As a parent, it can be hard to see your child struggle out in public, in the home, or even in their mind. It can be hard to watch your child have a negative reaction over the sound of a motorcycle, the feeling of certain textures, or the distinct smell of broccoli. When your child’s sensory processing system is dysregulated, it can make “normal life” a bit harder than it should be or needs to be.

Thankfully, over the 50 years, a new therapy has evolved called Sensory Integration Therapy. Sensory integration therapy is designed to help children with sensory-processing problems (including possibly those with ASDs) cope with difficulties they have processing sensory input.

But what is sensory processing? How does it affect your child? And what exactly can a therapist do for your family? Together we will explore the options your child has as well as the mechanics behind overstimulation.

Let’s start with the basics. What is sensory processing?

Sensory processing is a term used to describe the way in which we take information from our senses—such as touch, sight, and smell—and organize it so that we can respond appropriately.

For most people, this process is automatic—but for some children (and adults) with autism spectrum disorders or other neurological differences, their brains may not organize and respond appropriately when they are bombarded by environmental stimuli such as sounds or smells.

For example many children with autism experience varying degrees of sensitivity to light, noise, and touch. For example, loud music may be very unpleasant for kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), while bright fluorescent lights that bother others might seem thrilling to some children with ASDs.

Although for some children this may only affect them on a small level, other kids may feel this impact every day.

How does sensory dysfunction affect your child?

Sensory dysfunction can make it difficult for a child to engage in everyday ordinary activities. ASD can cause difficulties that affect behavior and life skills. Some children may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to stimulation in their surroundings.

Children with sensory processing deficits often have trouble mastering motor skills, staying balanced, and keeping track of objects in their hands.

Some children will look for ways to seek out certain sensations and engage in self-stimulating behaviors like rocking back and forth, head banging, and oral exploration of nonedible objects. More extreme cases can look like your child may be unable to stand the sound of a dishwasher, or they may flap and even injure themselves in order to feel connected with their bodies.

It is our responsibility at Lumiere to determine the reasons why your child may exhibit self-­‐stimulating behaviors.

Children naturally seek out what their bodies need and avoid frightening situations. By listening to our children, we can help them learn how to regulate themselves in positive ways.

What is sensory therapy?

Sensory integration therapy was created in the 1970s by an occupational therapist named Jean Ayres.

Sensory integration therapy’s biggest goal is to reduce your child’s feeling of being overwhelmed by stimuli and improve your child’s ability to participate in everyday activities.

It involves specific sensory activities to help your child appropriately respond to light, sound, touch, and other forms of input. Interventions may include swinging in the hammock or rolling around on the floor while brushing a soft blanket against their skin.

The American Occupational Therapy Association lists different types of interventions that can help with both sensory challenges.

  • Remedial intervention involves the use of sensory and motive activities as well as different types of equipment
  • Accommodations and adaptations this therapy can look like wearing earplugs or headphones to limit noise distractions or using a textured sponge in the shower
  • Diet programs A daily menu plan includes individualized, supportive sensory strategies (such as a quiet space or aromatic oils), physical activities, and tangible items like stress balls.
  • Environmental modifications White noise machines, artwork, and other types of decor may help decrease sensory stimulation in children.
  • Education to inform caregivers and administrators about the ways in which sensory functions (including vision, hearing, smell, and touch) affect performance as well as how to minimize their negative impact on function

Children with sensory differences often have trouble processing the information their senses give them. Sensory integration therapy can help your child make sense of what they see, hear, smell, and feel so that it doesn’t overwhelm or confuse them.

How does Lumiere Therapeutic Preschool use Sensory Integration Therapy?

At Lumiere, we proudly offer a premier Therapeutic Preschool in Chicago that incorporates sensory therapy programs throughout each child’s treatment plan. We are here to support your child through every stage of life so that they can be the best version of themselves.

Occupational therapists trained in sensory integration will typically evaluate your child’s tactile, visual, and auditory systems by using questionnaires and other assessment tools such as the Infant, Toddler, and Child Sensory Profile 2.

An OT will observe your child and talk to you (yes you!). The goal is to learn more about what your child is experiencing— such as sensitivity issues or verbal abilities. They can then use this information in making a plan for treatment

The OT will work with the parent (or guardian)  to create a schedule of therapies for your child during the day, which is sometimes called a “sensory diet.” 

As a parent you can also help by making changes at home—for example, creating an area where your child feels safe or buying weighted blankets and fidget toys that promote sensory integration

Treatment often happens in rooms that are specially designed so that kids with autism can relax and feel safe. These rooms have swings, weighted vests, ball pits, and body socks and sensory bins.

Our OTs might also do something called Therapeutic Brushing. The “Wilbarger protocol” is a common routine that involves using a soft brush in a specific way, followed by joint compressions with that same brush.

SI treatment may look very different from child to child, but it is carefully tailored to meet each one’s unique sensory-processing needs. Our experienced clinicians at Lumiere can make playtime fun while also using clinical reasoning behind every move.

These activities may result in better focus, improved behavior, and a diminished sense of anxiety. In addition, it is believed that sensory integration therapy increases a child’s threshold for tolerating sensory-rich environments and reinforces positive behaviors.

Over time, sensory integration therapy can help children like yours become less dependent on accommodations and more capable of functioning independently in their homes, in school, or on the playground.

Today, sensory integration therapy is one of the most popular interventions used to treat children with autism.

What can you do for your child?

As a parent, you want your child to be happy and healthy. That’s why we have created a variety of sensory integration therapy programs here at Lumiere that are designed to help your child with sensory processing disorder improve their quality of life and add more fun into the day to day.

Contact us today for more information about our services in Chicago and learn how we can help your child lead a more fulfilling, adventurous, and happy life.

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